Select Committee on Home Affairs First Report


Offending behaviour programmes

227. Offending behaviour (or cognitive skills) programmes were introduced during the early 1990s. They aim to teach offenders the process of consequential thinking in order to avoid patterns of thinking which lead them to offend. The Prison Service offers a broad range of programmes designed to challenge behaviour which has contributed to a prisoner's criminality or is a factor which may lead to further offending. The full range of Offending Behaviour Programmes are set out in Annex XX. In 2002-03, prisoners in 108 establishments completed accredited offending behaviour programmes. Details are given in the table below. Prisoners serving long sentences are the main recipients of these programmes. In 2003-04, 3,645 long-term prisoners completed some type of offending behaviour programme.

228. The findings of recent research into the effectiveness of cognitive skills programmes in rehabilitating prisoners present a somewhat confusing picture. The most recent evaluation of cognitive skills programmes, published by the Home Office in 2003, found no difference in the reconviction rates for prisoners who had participated in either an Enhanced Thinking Skills or a Reasoning and Rehabilitation programme between 1996 and 1998, and a matched comparison group. [185] This study was in marked contrast to an earlier Home Office study, conducted in 2002, which showed a reduction in reconviction for prisoners who had participated in a programme between 1994 and 1996.[186]

229. A further Home Office study in 2003 assessed reconviction outcomes for a prison-based sample of adult male sexual offenders who had completed a specifically designed treatment programme against a comparison group of similar offenders who had not participated in the programme.[187] The former showed a statistically significant reduction in reconviction for sexual and violent offences. Further, the study indicated that although the programme focused explicitly on sexual offending, violent offending also appeared to be reduced by programme participation.

230. The Home Office findings on offending behaviour programmes indicate that the number of high-risk offenders attending the programmes decreased over the three studies whilst the proportion of medium-risk offenders increased. The proportion within the low-risk group also increased, peaking in the second evaluation. This suggests a shift in programme targeting over the course of the large-scale implementation of these programmes within the Prison Service in recent years.

231. The Director of Nacro, Mr Paul Cavadino, told us that:

    "The reality … is that some of these courses work some of the time for some people in some circumstances if they are very well targeted, but simply to argue that if you put a prisoner through an anger management course or a thinking skills course, it will make any difference, is very questionable."[188]

232. The "Measuring the Quality of Prison Life" audit in 2002 has provided valuable data on prisoners' own perceptions of offending behaviour programmes. Of those prisoners who had participated in such behaviour programmes, 63.7% agreed that they had "learned a lot" from them, 70.6% agreed that their thinking had improved, and 62.4% believed that their chances of "going straight" were better as a result of their having attended the programmes.[189]

233. We share the Government's disappointment at the results of the most recent research into the impact of offending behaviour programmes. We consider that the great expansion in offending behaviour programmes since they were introduced in the early 1990s, and the alteration in focus of whom they were delivered to, have compromised programme delivery.

234. In our view, the results of the Home Office research argue in favour of reducing the priority given to offending behaviour programmes. They should continue to be offered as part of the range of interventions for prisoners but fitted into a much wider rehabilitation agenda. We welcome the Government's plans to develop strategies to evaluate the effectiveness of current programmes through reviews of (i) the targeting of programmes and (ii) the approach to auditing the quality of delivery.[190] We recommend that a much more sophisticated selection process be introduced to ensure that appropriate prisoners attend each of the particular courses, and that providers of programmes be carefully scrutinised on an ongoing basis to ensure satisfactory and consistent high standards of delivery of the programmes across the prison estate.

235. We consider that the current Prison Service Key Performance Indicator for offending behaviour programmes is misplaced, because it measures their success by the number of courses run, rather than by outcomes. We recommend that the Prison Service put in place ongoing monitoring programmes evaluating outcomes in terms of completion rates and impact on reconviction rates on an annual basis.

The Grendon model

236. A programme designed to address offending behaviour of the most severe kind has been operating at HMP Grendon, near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire, for over 40 years. Prisoners volunteer to come to Grendon. The aim is to treat antisocial personality disorders, or psychopathy. The prison contains five 'therapeutic communities' with 40 or so prisoners resident in each, held in Category B secure conditions. A therapeutic process has evolved at Grendon based on regular meetings of each community and of smaller, eight strong, groups within the communities. Residents stay at Grendon for at least 18 months, so membership of the small groups tends to be stable, and "conducive to genuine disclosure and psychodynamic working through".

237. These group meetings are at the core of the 'Grendon system'. The Prison Service described the interaction between prisoners in the groups as follows:

238. We visited Grendon in February 2004 and were impressed by what we saw and learnt. We held intensive discussions with a group of about a dozen prisoners and explored with them in detail how the therapeutic communities operate and heard graphic accounts of how they as individuals had been challenged to address their behaviour and personality problems.

239. In recent years there has been some anxiety about the future of HMP Grendon. The Board of Visitors' report for 2001-02 expressed "serious concern" about the detrimental impact of funding constraints and staff shortages on the therapeutic regime at Grendon, which the Board described as "a high quality, clinically effective process of immense benefit to prisoners".[191] In March 2004 a prisoner at Grendon wrote to us, following our visit, expressing concern about a possible erosion of the benefits of the regime as a result of prisoners being sent to Grendon to alleviate overcrowding elsewhere in the prison estate, even if they had no interest in being involved with therapy. We raised this matter with the Prisons Minister, Mr Paul Goggins MP. He told us that:

    "While every effort is made to maximise the use of the estate in order to meet current population pressures, it is not intended that this will be at the expense of the regime at Grendon. … In order to make full use of any capacity at Grendon, I understand that the Governor has taken steps to instruct staff to re-visit current waiting lists urgently. This is in order to expedite the transfers of prisoners who are suitable for the therapeutic regime offered by the establishment. Any increase in the population of Grendon can be expected to consist of prisoners who have indicated their willingness to co-operate with the regime, and have been assessed as suitable for allocation there."[192]

240. We endorse the view of the Prison Service that HMP Grendon is "a model of good prison practice and a leader in the treatment of severe personality-disordered offenders".[193] Although by its nature this model of treatment will only be suitable for a minority of offenders, we consider it important that the work done at Grendon should continue. We recommend that the Government should commit itself to maintain and if possible increase the present level of resourcing of Grendon and other therapeutic units. We agree with the Minister that prisoners should only be sent to Grendon if they are willing to benefit from that regime and have been assessed as suitable for allocation there.

185   Home Office Research Findings 206 (2003) Back

186   Home Office Research Findings 161 (2002) Back

187   Home Office Research Findings 205 (2003) Back

188   Q 202 Back

189   Ev 293 Back

190   National Action Plan, p 35 Back

191   HMP Grendon and Springhill Board of Visitors Annual Report 2001-02, p 2 Back

192   Evidence not printed Back

193   HMPS briefing for Committee visit (not printed) Back

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